There is a select group of players in the NBA whose images tower over cities on billboards, appear in commercials and are at the forefronts of their teams. Then there are other players who don’t receive as much notoriety but have intriguing back stories nonetheless.
Earlier this month, Basketball Insiders posed the question, ‘Who is Luigi Datome?” This time, get to know Detroit Pistons rookie guard Spencer Dinwiddie. The 21-year-old Los Angeles native was drafted out of the University of Colorado with the 38th pick last June. This season he is averaging 4.4 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.
Find out why he turned down Harvard University, how he followed in the footsteps of Ice Cube, why he prefers to live at home and more.
The Long Drive
When it came time for Dinwiddie to enter high school, he wanted to spend the next four years at a place he believed could bolster his basketball aspirations. Even though there was a closer school in the area, Dinwiddie opted to attend William Howard Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills, California, 40 minutes away from his home in Los Angeles.
“I felt like they were one of the best public schools academic-wise, and they also had a good basketball program,” he explained.
The head coach of the team was his neighbor, and he drove Dinwiddie to school each day. The decision essentially gave Dinwiddie a morning commute, longer than most high schoolers have to travel.
“The commute taught me dedication,” he said. “It’s something you had to commit to. You had to understand, I made this choice to go to this school and even though I’m tired and I don’t want to get up today and I have to get up an hour earlier than I usually do, you’ve got to do it because you made this choice so you had to do it.”
Following in Famous Footsteps
Usually when an athlete reaches the professional level, they become one of their school’s most renown alumni. In the case of Taft High School, there is a long list of notables who walked the halls prior to Dinwiddie. From entertainers like Ice Cube and Lisa Kudrow, to a NASA astronaut and Rhodes scholar, to athletes including Jordan Farmar and former NFL player Steve Smith, Dinwiddie is one of many from the school who have made a name for themselves.
“There were a bunch of famous people,” he said. “I was more known for following the legacy of Jordan Farmar and Larry Drew Jr. and Steve Smith because they were all really good athletes. I didn’t have the same type of hype as those guys. I think initially (people) didn’t expect me to be on their level or as good as them, but when you start to get that type of hype you start to move through the ranks and they think you’re good and compare you to those types of guys, you just want to live up to it. I don’t know why there were so many athletes from the school. It’s just luck of the draw I guess.”
Passing on the Ivy League
For many, Harvard University is a dream school. For Dinwiddie, it was his backup plan. Dinwiddie excelled academically in high school (he scored a 1400 out of 1600 on his SATs) and caught the attention of the Ivy League school. He also received letters from Princeton University.
Although Harvard has become an NCAA Tournament contender, he felt at the time the University of Colorado would be the place to help him reach his NBA dreams.
“Harvard was my second choice,” he said. “I felt at the time Harvard was kind of the safer decision with the academics and the prestige. But I wanted to do my own thing and get here to the league. I felt Colorado in the Pac-12 was the better place for me to do that.”
While he estimates 80 percent of his family pushed him toward Harvard, his closest relatives encouraged him to follow his heart. Dinwiddie doesn’t have any regrets. Colorado won the Pac-12 his freshman year and he was appearing on draft boards by his sophomore season.
“My parents and the people in my tight, tight circle said, ‘You have to do what you think is right,’” he said. “I was steadfast on this goal, this belief, and proving to the people who I think I am.”
Dinwiddie studied kinesiology and communications in college. He left after his junior year and plans to return to complete his degree.
“I have to go back,” he said without hesitation. “My mom would kill me if I didn’t.”
Home Sweet Home
Dinwiddie’s mother and father relayed a message to their oldest son as he grew up.
“My parents always said if I didn’t get a job, they’d kick me out. But I got a job so I can come back,” he said with a smile. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
Dinwiddie will move back to California and live with his family during the offseason. He enjoys being around his parents and younger brother, especially because he can’t see them often during the season.
“I love being home,” he said. “I’m real family-oriented.”
Just because he’s in the NBA now doesn’t mean he gets preferential treatment. There’s no taking over the master suite. He sleeps in the same bedroom, adorned with trophies, a bookcase, a TV and an Xbox. The one upgrade he plans to invest in is a new mattress.
There are still plenty of perks to being back with his family.
“The best thing about living at home is coming home to home-cooked meals,” Dinwiddie said. “My family can cook. I think the best is when my dad gets on the grill and barbecues. He’s got the greens going and my mom has the macaroni and cheese.”
That’s an offer he can’t refuse.
The home cooking Dinwiddie mentioned has turned into a strong passion of his. He hits the kitchen in his free time, which he finds both entertaining and “kind of therapeutic” at the same time.
Dinwiddie picked up his culinary flair from watching his parents and the occasional cooking show on TV. He prepares dinner for himself on most of his off days (breakfasts and lunches are provided by the team).
“I enjoy to cook,” he said. “You imagine the taste you want and you kind of go after it and try it.”
Dinwiddie has been making fish dishes lately. One of his favorites is pan-blackened salmon with steamed broccoli. He considers his signature dishes to be main courses such as steak and a lemon herb chicken recipe his mother taught him.
When it comes to dining out, Dinwiddie’s favorite place to go is Ruth’s Chris Steak House. He is also intrigued by the idea of having his own restaurant one day. The venue would be a balance between a high end eatery and a chain, accented by laidback jazz music.
“It’s chill, but you know you’re going to get some real nice food,” he envisioned. “Kevin Durant has one in Oklahoma City where it’s kind of a limited menu but it looks like family recipes, about 20 or 30 things. It seems like an interesting concept if you had a big enough following where you make what you’re good at. You’re not just pigeon-holed into one thing. It’s, ‘Here are the 20 things I know how to make great.’”
Deep in Thought
Dinwiddie seeks out new information and expands his knowledge by reading. He enjoys literature from a specific genre.
“I’m about to start reading ‘48 Laws of Power,’” he said. “The last book I read was ‘Relentless.’ I’m sure you can see the correlation in the books I read. They’re books that deal with your mental approach. Things like that interest me.”
He also picks up mantras to follow. Dinwiddie finds inspiration beyond the basketball court.
“Looking at somebody like Bruce Lee and how he was a big proponent of mastering yourself and mastering your mind, it leads you to accomplish great things,” he said. “One of his quotes I really like is, ‘Be like water.’ What I took from that is how water in the stream can be calm and float by the rocks and accept what life brings to it. At the same time, it can be powerful and crash and it can be a tsunami. It can be breathtaking and unstoppable. I felt like he was a very smart man and that’s kind of what pushed me in that direction.”
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